The stigma of loneliness, as seen by a young man

Admitting to feelings of loneliness is difficult at the best of times. But being a person who is reluctant to express his feelings and usually deals with emotional scenarios through humour – a la Chandler from ‘Friends’ – this is a topic I would much prefer to keep to myself.

However…

As an intern for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) on the Neighbourhood approaches to loneliness programme, I have a moral obligation to discuss my experiences surrounding my own experience of loneliness. 

Several factors have recently contributed towards my experiences of loneliness. These have included:

  • moving, which for anybody who has had to move house, would know is an incredibly stressful situation;
  • starting a new job, with the stress of trying to fit in and get to grips with the role, as well as the desire to prove I am a capable member of the JRF family;
  • the cruel irony of discovering everyone who works on the programme goes through a bout of loneliness at some point (something they did not advise in the job description!).

Loneliness is an issue that undoubtedly has a stigma attached to it. Some of the people we’ve spoken to said they would rather admit to experiences of depression rather than admit to being lonely.

Gradually, this has started to change, with the topic of loneliness being spoken about much more widely in the press and through organisations such as the Campaign to End Loneliness. Along with this, loneliness has a champion in the shape of Esther Rantzen. However, they usually discuss loneliness with regards to older people, which, although our own research confirms loneliness is most commonly associated with getting old, does nothing to help remove the stigma for young people, particularly men.

Admitting to loneliness is admitting to feeling vulnerable, which is a sign of weakness, and ‘real’ men are not weak and most certainly don’t cry and go on about it, even if they are lonely. 

Research from the WRVS, has found that men are more likely than women to live lives dominated by isolation and loneliness, and many men are suffering needlessly because of a 'stiff upper lip' approach to their problems. Granted, this research focuses on men aged over 75, however I believe it has a significant link with men of all ages.

I have come across blogs stating "The myth of the lonely old man", which argues men are conditioned by women to believe that without a woman, they will become sad lonely old men. However this fails to separate the difference between loneliness and solitude. 

"Language has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone." (Paul Tillich) 

There is an enjoyment of being alone and having time to yourself. However, loneliness is the body's way of informing us to seek company.

My way of coping with it has been to throw myself fully into this new chapter in my life and take up activities designed to meet new people and make new relationships (primarily Thai Boxing as it allows me to sneak hugs while sparring with opponents). It is also very important to differentiate between being alone and being lonely as you can be in a group and still feel lonely.

I hope by expressing my feelings around the matter, I can contribute to more young men being willing to discuss their thoughts on loneliness and other issues and not feel trapped by macho perceptions and stereotypes. 

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